ANFERNEE “PENNY” HARDAWAY

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a two-time All-American and a four-time NBA All-Star during his playing days, is returning to his alma mater.

Hardaway, 47, was named University of Memphis men’s basketball coach in a March 20 press conference at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on the Park Avenue Campus. Hardaway becomes the school’s 19th coach and the third former Tiger player in the modern era (since WWII) to lead the program, following Wayne Yates (1974-79) and Larry Finch (1986-97).

Hardaway, who played for Finch, begins his first job as a college head coach after a successful run at East High School. East High won state titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  With Hardaway serving as head coach, the Mustangs defeated Whitehaven High for the 2018 Class AAA championship.

“This is truly a blessing,” Hardaway said. “I’m ready to get the team back to the glory days.”

In three seasons since returning to his alma mater as head coach, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a two-time All-American, four-time NBA All-Star and United States Gold Medalist during his playing days, has led the Tigers to a 63-32 record, three-straight 20-win seasons and the 2021 National Invitation Tournament championship.

Of over 50 head coaches hired before the 2018-19 season, Hardaway’s 63 wins in three seasons are the third-most.

Hardaway was introduced as University of Memphis men’s basketball coach during a March 20, 2018 press conference at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on the Park Avenue Campus. Hardaway became the school’s 19th coach and the third former Tiger player in the modern era (since World War II) to lead the program, following Wayne Yates (1974-79) and Larry Finch (1986-97).

The 2020-21 Tigers were one of the most exciting teams in the second half of the season and finished the year winning 11-of-13 games and securing a 20-8 record, including the 2021 NIT title over Mississippi State. The Tigers dispatched Dayton, Boise State, Colorado State and Mississippi State en route to the NIT championship.

Memphis’ only losses after January were to Final Four participant Houston two times by a combined five points, including one buzzer-beater. The Tigers finished 20-8 on the year after starting 6-5, and its average defeat in its eight losses was just 4.4 points, includ­ing seven by single digits and its last four by one possession.

The 20-win season was Memphis’ fourth in a row, including all three seasons under Hardaway, and the Tigers’ 18th of the 2000s. Only five of Memphis’ 16 head coaches since World War II have won 20 games in each of their first three seasons at the helm, now including Hardaway.

Memphis was in the hunt for an American Athletic Conference championship and finished third in the standings, its best since finishing third in the conference in 2013-14.

Hardaway and company did all this with one of the nation’s youngest rosters, which, according to KenPom, has an average experience level of 1.08 years. That was the youngest among teams that advanced into the second weekend of the postseason.

The squad achieved success with its trademark defense. Memphis ended the year ranked in the top-20 in the nation in seven defensive categories (3-point field goal percentage defense, 2nd; field goal percentage defense, 5th; rebounds per game, 11th; steals per game, 12th; rebound margin, 17th; blocked shots per game, 18th; scoring defense, 19th) and had the nation’s best team in terms of KenPom’s defensive efficiency.

Hardaway tutored Landers Nolley II to the All-AAC First Team, Boogie Ellis to AAC Sixth Man of the Year honors and Moussa Cisse to AAC Freshman of the Year recognition. DeAndre Williams, who became eligible at the midpoint of the season and helped engineer Memphis’ turnaround, was one of just six players in the nation to average at least 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game in 2020-21.

In his second season in 2019-20, Hardaway directed the Tigers to a 21-10 record that included wins over two nationally ranked teams: No. 19 Tennessee at sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville and No. 22 Houston at FedExForum.

The continued excitement surrounding the program produced impressive attendance numbers. The Tigers averaged 16,312 fans at FedExForum during the season to rank ninth nationally in attendance. Memphis also ranked second in largest increased attendance from the previous season.

During the 2019-20 season, Hardaway helped freshman forward Precious Achiuwa develop into the AAC Player of the Year, the program’s first Player of the Year since joining the AAC in 2013. Achiuwa also earned Freshman of the Year honors to become the first Tiger to sweep both awards since Keith Lee in 1982.

Achiuwa also made the league’s first team and all-freshman team while averaging 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, the only freshman in the nation to average a double-double. Guard Lester Quinones also made the all-freshman team. Achiuwa and Quinones were members of the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, the first time in program history the Tigers had the top-ranked class.

During the season, the Tigers spent the first three months ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. They reached as high as No. 9 in late December following a 10-game winning streak that included the victory at No 19 Tennessee.

Most impressive was how the nation’s youngest team responded defensively. The Tigers finished first nationally in field goal percentage defense (36.1) and allowed only six of 31 opponents to shoot 43.0 percent or better.

The Tigers also ranked first in the AAC in 3-point percentage defense (28.0) and second in the league in both blocks per game (5.9) and steals per game (7.8).

In his first season in 2018-19, Hardaway led the Tigers to a 22-14 record and the program’s first postseason appearance in five years. Memphis reached the second round of the 2019 National Invitation Tournament, defeating San Diego in the opening round before falling to Creighton.

Before the NIT, the Tigers reached the semifinals of the AAC Championship at FedExForum, beating Tulane and NCAA Tournament-participant UCF before losing to 11th-ranked Houston, 61-58.

The loss to Houston was one of only three the Tigers suffered at FedExForum, where they went 18-3, including the three games in the conference tournament. The other two losses came to nationally ranked opponents: No. 3 Tennessee and No. 25 Cincinnati.

The excitement generated by Hardaway’s hiring led to a huge increase in attendance. The Tigers led the conference by averaging 15,106 fans per game, more than double the previous season’s average of 6,225.

During the season, Hardaway directed the Tigers to top-3 finishes in multiple league categories. The Tigers finished first in scoring (80.1 points per game) and assists (15.4); second in field goal percentage (45.3); and third in steals (8.0) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (32.2).

Hardaway’s initial team also produced one of three unanimous all-conference first-team selections in guard Jeremiah Martin. Martin tied for the league lead with a 19.7 scoring average and ranked second in steals per game (2.2). Martin finished his career as the program’s No. 10 scorer (1,625 points) and became the first Tiger to score 40 or more points in a game twice in a career.

Hardaway’s success during his first season wasn’t limited to on-the-court progress. His 2019 recruiting class — including the nation’s top prospect, 7-foot center James Wiseman — was ranked the nation’s best. Wiseman and forward Precious Achiuwa were five-star prospects. The other five signees — Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge and Damion Baugh — were rated four stars.

In his two seasons, Hardaway led the team to a 43-23 record – including eight wins over nationally ranked schools — and directed the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight trip in 1992.

A two-time All-American and two-time Great Midwest Conference Player of the Year, Hardaway averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.4 steals in 1992-93.  After his junior year, Hardaway declared for the NBA Draft and began a 14-year pro career with the Orlando Magic (1993-99), the Phoenix Suns (1999-2004), the New York Knicks (2004-06) and the Miami Heat (2007).

The No. 3 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, Hardaway quickly rose to stardom with the Magic. He averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds in his first season and was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team.

The following two seasons with the Magic brought more success. During the 1994-95 season, he averaged 20.9 points and 7.2 assists, started the NBA All-Star Game and was named to the All-NBA First Team, while leading Orlando to the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. Hardaway averaged 25.5 points and eight assists in the series.

During the 1995-96 season, Hardaway averaged a career-best 21.7 points per game and 7.1 assists. He again was named All-NBA First Team and finished third in the league’s MVP voting.  After the season, he played on the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won a gold medal in Atlanta, Ga.

Hardaway started in the NBA All-Star Game the following two seasons. During the 1997 NBA playoffs, he had the distinction of becoming the first player to score 40 or more points in back-to-back games against a Pat Riley-coached team when he had 42 and 41 in consecutive outings against the Miami Heat.

Hardaway joined the Phoenix Suns to start the 1999-2000 season and averaged 16.9 points in 60 games and 20.3 points in nine playoff games.  After playing a full season for the Suns in 2001-02, he battled knee injuries throughout the remainder of his career, which included stops with the Knicks and the Heat.